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After the heat of Santiago, I arrived at the airport in Portland to the winter season once more. In a few hours I was home in Rainier, where a thin layer of snow still covered the ground. Over the week that followed, more snow fell. It’s not a lot of snow as far as snowy places go, but for our area it is unusual. And just in time for Christmas!
Tara and I bought a $5 tag from the U.S. Forest Service and went up into the mountains to collect a tree. We didn’t find much in the way of trees, but we had a great adventure. Soon after we entered National Forest land, we came upon a couple of young men trapped in a little car on an icy bridge. They had tried to cross the bridge the night before and became high-centered on the snow berm in the middle, and couldn’t get any traction on the ice. They had spent the night out there and were SO glad to see us! I towed them off the bridge with the Jeep and we pushed the car to help them turn it around and get them out of there. They looked in pretty good shape, but were ready to eat and get warm again.
In the chill, it’s obvious my thoughts keep going back to those warm days such a short time ago. I’m still peeling from the sunburn, but the mosquito bites are all healed. Yay! I’ve got the stamps on my passport to prove it really happened. I was gathering some of the money together to send to my brother, who collects foreign currency as I do, and it occurred to me that my Uncle Sean was a missionary for the Mormon church in the 1980s and did his mission in Chile. He sent me a 100 CP note back then and I still have it. The currency has de-valued, and Chile doesn’t even *make* 100 peso bills anymore.
Merry Christmas everyone and have the happiest of New Year’s celebrations! My long, annual Christmas missive is delayed, obviously, but I’ve had a really productive December. I spent two weeks on vacation, I finished the Mt. Hood Cherokees newsletter this morning, and sent it out to everyone on the mailing list. I’ve got all Tara’s presents wrapped. The tree is up and simply gorgeous. Santa comes tonight and we are all very excited about it!
On my podcasts it’s all election all the time today. Even on the BBC! Thank goodness I have something else to think about. Fall brings some delicious warmth after an unusually cool and wet summer. If I still worked for NOAA, I would have been reviewing charts and models all year, and would know if it was the result of El Nino patterns, as I suspect. It’s typical Autumn weather now, and it suits me just fine. Mostly rain, but broken up with scrumptiously warm and sunny moments. Warm as much for the colour as for the heat.
I voted days ago, taking advantage of Oregon’s statewide mail-in ballot. It was an instant relief to get that double sealed and signed envelope into the mail. Ah, to be able to ignore the clamouring voices. And now I’ve sought them out for entertainment value. I watched all of the Saturday Night Live debates between Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin. They’re a riot. Kate does such a great job of portraying Hillary Clinton that I was actually able to see how people can dislike her. Personally I find the prospect of having a smart, introverted, strong, and empathetic woman for President to be nothing short of exhilarating. My anticipation dulled only slightly at the knowledge that there is a good chance that Congress would fetter her as effectively as they have our current President.
I was proud to be a part of my own friends group when a rousing text-conversation burst up over the topic of Meaure 97, and whether to tax multi-million-dollar corporations at a level corresponding to the rest of the nation. It’s good to know the people in my life care as much as I do about voting intelligently. I imagine Nike, Intel, Columbia Sportswear and the rest of the corporations (most not headquartered in Oregon) could stand to pay their fair share in taxes. I was taken aback that my fave bookstore in the whole wide world, Powell’s, spoke out against Measure 97, saying that if they had to pay higher taxes they might go under. I do hope they’re being dramatic. The biggest shock of all this election season came when I reviewed the voter booklet that explained the issues, and found that a corporation in Oregon has to have sales in mega millions before they are taxed as much as my own personal income tax. I am astonished to learn this.
Lets talk about emails, because, why not – everyone else is. Emails. Emails. I recently commented on a friend’s blog that the idea of having my own personal computer server to manage my government work sounds divine. At my home office, just like the Secretary of State, I am allowed to use only government equipment. I use an aging CPU with outdated software. I call her Old Bessie, and she takes around 22 minutes to be up and running each morning (I’ve timed the process), after logging in to the protected network and verifying my identity with passwords and chip ID cards and the like, through multiple firewalls. I can sing the Jeopardy theme song after each click, while I wait for my 0’s and 1’s to travel to the hub in Illinois and back again. Our government IT department is understaffed and underfunded. I get these little warning messages all the time “You are using an unsupported version of…” but since I do not have administrative authority, I am not allowed to touch any of it. And don’t talk to me about getting new hardware, because that’s up to you, the taxpayer. There are hundreds of things in more critical need of taxpayer dollars.
Anyhoo, when I heard that Mrs. Clinton had a personal server, the emotion I felt was envy, not rage or suspicion. “If only!” If the rest of us peons had the means to acquire our own systems, you can bet the lady candidate would be only one of legions who engaged in the practice.
Tomorrow will be a frenzy. Thank heavens I work till 6pm and I’ll miss most of it. I have a demanding job and I won’t even be tempted to follow things a little bit, because I need to stay focused.
But ok, honestly? I’m still thinking about it. As soon as the work is done I will find some kind of live stream to plug into. Because it really does matter how this goes. I know the President is only one person, and that one person does not have the power we think she has, and that one person does not have the power the majority of people insinuate upon her. She will be a face to the world, and a champion of causes, but a woman who has to find a way to work with the team, whether that team is hostile or friendly. She will have to continue to do her job while crazies try to find a way to impeach her, and straightjacket her, and defame her. She will have to stand tall while people talk about her wrinkles and her waistline and her butt and her voice and her taste in clothes. And like many women in the workforce, she will have to do the job spectacularly to maintain even the mildest respect from the masses.
We’ve been oh, so scared to talk about it, but we are right on the edge of electing a woman as a President.
It is so important that she is elected. Who else (among women who want that job) is baddass enough to pull off a woman in the White House? I think she doesn’t care if you hate her, and I don’t care if you hate her, but she can do the job. And oh, my fingers will be crossed all night long that Americans will give her that chance.
I am reluctant to say goodbye this year. Last summer was dry and hot for so long. That’s the way I like it. First, because I am crazy for dry & hot weather (don’t ask me why I live on the Columbia River, 45 miles from the ocean). Second, because when you have full-on summer, it makes you hungry for Autumn. This summer was cool and wet. Bleh. And while the crisp mornings and short sunny days and October colours are my favourite season… this year I’m still yearning for summer. Just when will summer start anyway? I think I was warm enough to wear sandals without socks on about six days in total, and those weren’t in a row! I look at the calendar and see I may as well give up hope and start looking forward to summer 2017.
Here’s a goodbye to my summer. As you can see, the sun did shine now and then, and I ran outside with my camera!
First I am excited to show off some new birds I have spotted this year, as well as some I’ve seen before. I just learned that the Eurasian Collared-Dove first arrived in the contiguous 48 US states in 1980, in Florida. And look! Happy and healthy over here on the West coast already.
Even though I see them on a nearly daily basis, I still love the deer that show up. There have been two regulars all summer, both small does, but one is noticeably smaller than the other, so I have wondered if they are mother and daughter. The smaller one loves to play, and prances, and bows, and sprints in circles trying to get the bigger one to play. The bigger one twitches her ears and reaches down for another mouthful of grass. I love getting up in the morning to see them sleeping beneath the apple tree.
Thomas and Chaplin love it here, but there are continued problems. They fight with my Racecar and with each other. Do you know anyone in Oregon who wants to adopt?
My pond is evaporating again and it’s distressing. I really need to find a way to keep that thing filled. I can’t count on another humongous flood this winter like last year, to fill it up again. I have enlisted the input from my neighbors. There are three homes in a row here, and no one else in sight. And it’s nice that I can only see forest and fields in all directions except one, but why cram all three houses together with all this land? I just don’t get what people are thinking sometimes. So anyway, I’ve talked to the neighbors farthest away, because their back deck looks down onto my pond and they are always worried about it. They have lived here 22 years and know exactly how to take care of it. Their ideas are great, and their offers to help are great, so now we just wait on the spare change to collect so I can purchase the needed equipment. Stay tuned…
In fact, rain and lack of funds is keeping me from my annual 5-day solo backpacking trip this year. It’s such a sad thing. I toyed with the idea of driving down to New Mexico or Utah, to get some sun, but then there is also the problem of taking care of the animals. I’ve opted for a couple overnights locally. Hopefully it is just as fun, if not as epic, to stay one night somewhere nearby, and do it again a few days later.
My blogger friend Marlene (insearchofitall) asked in her post: “What are you up to?” All the usual little bits of life are going on at breakneck speed.
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” ~ Lewis Carroll
Interesting bit of news: my father is moving to Romania. A modern romance is behind it, of course. He met his wife online because they both play the same computer game. They have interacted for years, flirted and fell in love for a year, then last summer my Pa flew to Romania and married her. The plan originally was to bring her to the U.S., but the paperwork is proving too much of a challenge for two intelligent humans to overcome, so Pa has given up and will move to Romania. He expects to be gone in less than a month. Hopefully together at last in time for their one-year anniversary.
Last month I made an emergency trip to his place on the Snake River, south of Boise, Idaho, to help him pack up the giant house. That was after two of his sisters and a nephew-in-law showed up to host a yard sale for him and start the packing. This week a sister and a niece will arrive to do more of the same: haul things to the donation store, maybe hold another yard sale, pack more stuff. It was good to see my Pa, and I made a bonus stop at a fave winery just up the road from his place and accidentally bought two cases of Ste. Chapelle wine.
I have been asked to take two of his four cats. Yes, my Pa is the Crazy Old Cat Man. Thomas and Yeowler won’t be going to Romania and need homes. Racecar is going to hate life for awhile, as she doesn’t get along with any other cat – ever – for as long as they live together (I know this through painful experience). I may get in touch with my grumpy side too, if this cat interaction goes like the last attempt did. My hope is that, since all of them are older cats, and since the boys have group skills they could teach to my princess, maybe it will be ok. I am also hoping that I can keep the two cats alive. They aren’t mine and I’m feeling extra pressure to keep them well. Anyway, cross your fingers for us.
It took around two months, but the chicken pen is done. The chicken pen man is also my wood delivery man. He is getting married in a week, and getting ready for the wedding has taken precedence over the chicken pen, which I can certainly forgive. Also, we had a few setbacks, the biggest being when we discovered that only 10 inches down is an enormous slab of rock underground, so he couldn’t bury half the 12-foot 4x4s into the dirt for stability. Instead, he had to buy concrete and set them that way. Not to mention having to saw the tops off half the 4x4s so they would be the same height as the ones buried two feet into the dirt.
The three remaining hens (because Lacey got hit by a car): Tawny and the twins: Jamie & Phil are now behind wire. So far, no escapees. I suspected a higher wall would do the trick. It has no top, but chickens aren’t the best fliers, so I believe this will be sufficient as long as winged predators don’t find them. As I told Marlene, they get distressed when they see me at a distance and can’t come running like they do (omigosh it’s the sweetest thing ever to have fat, saucy chickens running to you at the moment they hear your voice). But, like goldfish, they soon forget they are in a pen, and get happy again for a couple hours, till they remember again that they are penned up. I will get new chicks, but not this year, as I simply don’t have the bandwidth to add babies to my list of chores.
I mowed the huge lawn one time, and noticed the riding lawnmower was not running well. My neighbor borrowed it and when he brought it back he said the same thing. So I called and asked about repair time. They said it would be about 10 days, and I figured that was fair, so with the help of my neighbors and their trailer, I got the tractor to the shop. When I dropped it off he told me, “Better plan on two weeks, to be safe.” Thirty-five days later I finally got it back. I need to remember it’s the country, and country schedules are not the same as city schedules. Besides which, it’s probably the worst time of year to take in a lawnmower, since everyone else in the county has also just discovered their machine isn’t working at its best.
The grass got deeper and deeper, so I called a professional lawnmower, who was going to stop by and look at the place and give me an estimate. But he threw out his back. A week later he called me up, and since my tractor was still not home, I said I was still interested. We agreed on a time to mow. That morning he contacted me once more to say his tractor had to go into the shop (the same place mine went to). He figured it would be back in a couple days, and said he could mow my lawn the following week. I told him nevermind.
I began my jungle mowing project last night in the rain, and some of the grass is chest high. It is slow going. Grass that high mostly just lays down when a mower goes over it, rather than acquiesce to a haircut. I anticipate a multi-week project to get it under control again. If you remember my story from the first time around, this one will be worse. Plus side: the riding lawn mower has a drink holder. Turns out, Ste. Chapelle in a tumbler fits nicely.
Irises are in bloom and when the first one put up a bud, I cried. My mother brought me several plants down from her north Idaho mountaintop when she was alive and visited us every year in Portland. She also brought lavender and peony which I still have. Anyway, the flower blooming was like having my mother here, and that’s what made me cry. I miss her so much. She brought the flowers when I was living on Morrison Street, and we called our house the Morrison House. I always name my houses – strange that I haven’t named the current one yet. Then we moved to the Blue House, where I lived when most of you got to know me. The irises have come along. Amazingly, the light blue ones bloomed this year, when they never bloomed at the Blue House. The blue ones are from the Morrison House, and I thought those were all lost. But now I have a little piece of that home too, and it is good for my soul. I’m sentimental that way.
I installed the first of several bird feeders outside my office window. It took a week for the birds to discover it, and now they are there all the time. Most beautiful so far is probably the Evening Grosbeak. One of the many Blackheaded Grosbeaks flew into a window one day, and did not recover. So far, no new and exciting birds from what I’ve already seen out here, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time and season before word of the feeder spreads.
Speaking of exciting birds, vultures have been perching outside my window. Not sure what it is about this particular spot, but I’ve seen four at a time up there in the trees. Typically they are deep in the foliage, and disappear as soon as I go outside. I did manage to get a shot of one on a stump, through the window.
…and so that’s what I’ve been up to. Oh yeah, there is my job which makes it all possible and yet keeps me too busy to ever really enjoy my place. I put in about 60 hours a week at my job, including commuting. If you add up all the hours when I sleep, it really doesn’t leave much left. Somehow, I manage to mow the damned lawn, wash dishes, do laundry, see my boyfriend, help my dad, camp with my kid, volunteer for the Cherokees, and update facebook! ha ha! Life is a giant puzzle and I find such delight in discovering pieces that fit.
Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…
I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.
I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.
Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉
I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.
My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.
Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.
The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.
I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!
Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.
There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.
I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.
Over the weekend I found a nest.
A little background: I have not yet built a proper fence that is high enough to keep my hens penned. They simply lift like multicoloured Harrier jets and launch over the four-foot fence. They roam far and wide, doing their own thing, and get into enough trouble that I have been calling them The Hussies. Only one of them comes home to lay, and till recently, I had no idea where most of the eggs were laid.
My good friend was visiting from Boise and stayed with me for four days. Sunday we were in the mood to do yard work. The weather was wholly uncooperative, and the heavens opened up and poured all day long. We donned hats and jackets and boots (my friend was shocked I did not have Wellies) and went out anyway. We raked muddy leaves and hauled heaps of wet sticks and branches and built up two new slash piles for burning at some future date.
The Hussies like it when I do yard work and particularly when I dig, because whenever I come across a worm I make sure one of them gets a crack at it. The ladies were hanging around, clucking, pecking, scraping their beaks across stones in a manner that suggests wiping their chins of grime. They did not alert me to the discovery I was about to make, of a treasure stockpile of which at least one of them was well aware.
As I untangled dead sticks and blackberry brambles from ferns, I spied an egg on the ground, exposed and lying atop some coals discarded from a long-ago fire in the woodstove. I hollered at my friend to come over and see.
He was dripping wet head to toes, with hands stained yellow from the dye leeching out of his sopping wet calfskin gloves. Happy for an excuse for a break, he came over to where I was working, and I walked closer to the egg to show him where to go.
I walked closer and got a new view. Something pale-coloured beneath the ferns. Something light in the dark. I bent down and spotted the motherlode of eggs! There were NINETEEN eggs piled up! Carefully tucked into a nest of decaying pine needles and ferns, was a pile of eggs, laid one at a time in patient confidence. It looked like a turtle nest. I was so excited I was hopping around with glee.
For anyone curious, eggs are laid with an antibacterial membrane, an invisible coating called a bloom, that seals the eggs and protects the freshness as well as holds in moisture. Eggs can be stored at room temperature for weeks like this, as long as the eggs are not washed. Eggs can be refrigerated for months unwashed, and will stay fresh. The weather around here has been in the 40s and up to around 50 degrees some days, so I call that refrigerated. However, with all the rain, they may have been “washed.” We used the egg floating test. Put an egg in a bowl of cool water. If it lies horizontally on the bottom, it’s very fresh. If it tips up, but stays in contact with the bottom: still fresh, but less so. If it floats: no good, throw it out. All my eggs were good! As of this morning, we’ve eaten them all.
Longtime friends of mine recently returned to their Spokane home from a New Year’s vacation in Australia and remarked on leaving the greenery down under and arriving at the whitery at home. I have shamelessly adopted their humor as my own. 🙂
I live in a valley that is about 500 feet in elevation. That’s not really worth raising an eyebrow at in the Pacific NW, but it does mean a bit more snow than if I were at sea level. The cold air sinks to the bottom of my valley and means the snow lingers a little longer too. I like it. I’ve lived in places most my life where winter was a serious situation: Vermont, Colorado, northern Nevada, Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts, and the worst winters of all in Idaho. It’s luxury not to have to shovel snow for months, but I also miss having the white stuff around. I only need enough to make it feel like winter is here for real.
In the past six weeks we’ve had enough snow to warrant some photos and a post.
So remember when I blogged about the flooding here? The creek water was so high that it eroded the banks and turned everything that was left to mud. A couple days later there was an enormous downburst in this area, and that blasted high winds into the trees in Rainier. Mature trees were snapped off everywhere, at about 30 feet up from the ground, blocking many roads. Many more were torn right out of the soggy ground, and laid flat. This was the case on my property, where most of the trees down were those whose roots were exposed and loosened due to the flooding. Fresh snow on the downed trees makes it easier to see them on a dark winter day.
Tara and I made a trip up to Moyie Springs, Idaho to visit my stepdad. Our timing was not so great, as we encountered a storm in Hood River, Oregon (about an hour out of Portland), and the snow and slick roads continued all the way through Kennewick, Washington through Spokane and Coer d’Alene, and finally stopped coming down in Sandpoint (about an hour from our destination). It was a 12-hour day, but the Dragon Wagon (my Jeep) did a great job and we were safe all day long. We arrived at Jim’s house to dry ground, but by morning the storm had caught up with us.
Now granted, these photos don’t show the worst of what winter can be. Snow only piled up about two inches deep here, and after four days it melted. We’ve had a few more snow falls since, and as you see from the photos, it is just enough to cover the ground. The temps were low in Moyie Springs, down around 18 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. Here in Rainier it dropped into the 20s for a few days, but now it’s up into the nice toasty 40s again and all the whitery is gone.
So I’m satisfied. My Winter check box has been checked, and I’m ready for Spring now.
I’m sure you have heard the news about the rain on the U.S. West coast. Here’s our story.
On Tuesday December 8, despite the pouring rain I drove south to Corvallis after work to pick up Tara from college to come home for the holidays. We got home at 9:30 pm and I was so tired we didn’t visit, just went to bed. So much rain had fallen that day it had caused a mudslide that brought down trees and debris across Oregon Highway 30 near Rainier, my hometown. Wednesday morning I kissed Tara’s sleeping head, and hopped into the Jeep at 5:00 am like usual. I could not take the Highway 30 route into Portland because there was a roadblock, flashing lights, and police out there answering questions. I shrugged and turned the other direction to cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Columbia River to Washington state. It’s my preferred route into town anyway. Both highways hug the river all the way to Portland, but the I-5 speed limit is 70 miles per hour, and the Hwy 30 speed limit ranges from 25 to 55 mph as it passes through half a dozen little towns.
During the day Wednesday the rain came down like a monsoon. Word spread through the office that there had been a mudslide on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle – my way home. I wasn’t worried at first, since that is a major route and I knew it would be a priority cleanup.
Tara sent a video taken on their phone. It showed our little Beaver Creek had overflowed its banks and flooded the whole bottom section of the property, flowed all across the land and into the pond. The video is blurry, but you get the idea. Since I moved here in July I have fretted about the low level of the pond, but in minutes the raging Beaver River filled it up and overflowed the other side. (Notice the sticks still on the railing after I photographed them for their ice formations.)
I left work and headed north on I-5 like usual, and right away I saw enormous highway signs proclaiming “Road closed, mile post 23. Use alternate route.” I kept driving because the mudslide was from the morning. Certainly the major highway would be open by the time I arrived. And besides, “alternate route,” that’s a joke. There is no alternate route. There isn’t a frontage road, or mountain pass, or even a little recreation road that follows the Columbia River on the Washington side. There is absolutely no other way to get through except Highway 30 on the Oregon side.
I was still about 10 miles away from the so-called “road closure,” but already the Interstate was slowing down. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic traveling around 15 miles an hour finally made me take the situation seriously. The big glowing highway signs stated “Take next exit.” I passed one exit, still not convinced. When we were down to 3 miles an hour, and still 8 miles from mile marker 23, I acquiesced and pulled off the highway, turned around and went back to Portland. I finally had to agree that the Interstate was truly closed.
Luckily I had a place to stay in downtown Portland, so I had a rather appealing Plan B. Serendipitously, Tara was at home and could keep an eye on the place, feed the cat and the chickens, and that was reassuring. I visited the hot tub on the roof of the apartment building where I stayed, and for an hour the rain let up and gave us this Christmas view of the city.
I wore all the same clothes at work Thursday December 10, though I was able to swap out my undershirt with a clean Incredible Hulk T-shirt, which I was carrying for the workout that never happened. You just never know when you’re going to need the help of a superhero, am I right?! My co-workers and I heard that Highway 30 was finally open at Rainier, but a couple hours later a new mudslide happened at the St. John’s bridge. Cleanup crews for the St. John’s slide accidentally hit a natural gas pipeline, which closed Highway 30 again. I-5 stayed closed. My co-worker’s wife called to tell him that a tornado dropped down in their hometown, and the schools were calling parents to come get their kids. A tornado!
I considered driving to the coast at Tillamook, Oregon, going north to Astoria, and coming in to Rainier from the back way. Yes, for reals, I was seriously going to drive to the coast just to get home. However, the same co-worker with kids going home for a tornado, has family in Tillamook. He cautioned me not to try it because many of those highways were under water as well.
Finally Hwy 30 opened again in the afternoon, and I left an hour early. I thought for sure that leaving at 2:30 pm would help me avoid rush hour traffic and make the trip home reasonable. I had not seen my home in two days, hadn’t said “hi” to my teenager or the chickens or the cat, hadn’t taken prescription meds, and I needed new clothes. I made up my mind to get onto 30 and just be patient if it ended up taking a long time.
All Interstate 5 traffic was routed onto 30 that day. Just imagine it: three lanes of Interstate traffic on two lanes (and for a large portion of the highway, only one lane) of country road. It wasn’t just a slow trip home: it was the worst ever. Six and a half hours it took me. I finally pulled into the driveway at 9:15 pm.
Friday morning at 5:00 am, I kissed Tara’s forehead in the dark again (I still hadn’t seen my kid awake for days) and headed back into town. Sadly, all the southbound roads had been open all week. Meaning, I could always get to work, but getting home was the problem. Next time I’d prefer to be trapped at home due to mudslides. At work we heard stories of how the Red Cross had set up tents along the Interstate for motorists trapped on the highway, unable to back out because of being penned in by other vehicles. They passed out silver heat blankets and bottled water, and people stayed the night in their cars. If I was religious, this would probably have been the time for me to send up some prayers. (I sent some anyway, just because I don’t let convictions get in the way of my gratitude)
After work Friday I went home on I-5 that had two lanes open at long last. I passed about a dozen abandoned cars beside the highway, where people had pulled into the ditch and walked back toward Portland two nights earlier. Thank goodness I had not been one of those trapped. I am so glad I decided to turn around. One of my defining qualities is the refusal to give up when things get difficult, but perhaps a sign that I’m maturing despite it all, is the fact that I am learning that sometimes the right decision is to give it up.
All is well at home. No one is allowed to worry that my house was ever in danger of flooding. We sit up on a hill and the whole Columbia Valley would have to fill up before the water would get to my house. Ironically, I currently have an application pending with FEMA to get the property removed from their categorization of flood zone, so I don’t have to buy flood insurance. Shh! Don’t show them the video.
After rain and clouds and fog and darkness, we’ve had a week of sunshine. Sun in November means there is no protective blanket of clouds and the ground is exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Lows in Rainier have been in the 20s (below zero Celsius) at night and warm up to around the freeze/ melt point during the day (most people saying “freezing point,” but meteorologist say “melting point”). Despite the cold, the sun makes me happy. And when it’s cold day after day, and you walk in the air and breathe deeply while chasing chickens or chopping wood, you get used to it in no time.
The chicken hussies (so-called because of their stubborn insistence on misbehaving) are periodically in their pen. I capture them, and I force visitors to help me wrangle chickens, so on occasion all four are inside. But they lose their patience and fly out within days. Or hours. They used to be content to scratch the dirt and eat the grass within feet of the house, but in the past month have decided that no distance is too far to roam. I usually have no idea where they are. Thanksgiving morning I walked down to the chicken pen to visit the only chicken in there at the time.
After chatting with Tawny, dumping out the solid block of ice and refilling her water dish with liquid water, I noticed something white that looked like paper trash down by the creek. It was not trash but the most amazing ice sculpture! I’m guessing that the cold temperatures froze the moisture inside the sticks, and when the ice swelled, it was forced to squeeze out of the sticks. Anyway, what do you think happened?
I have been worn out with my commute. I spend three hours a day in traffic, sometimes four. I can’t stand driving to begin with, so it really takes a toll on my spirit and my ability to get stuff done at home since I’ve been deprived of all that time. But the upside is, I am slowly learning my new job and gaining a tiny bit of confidence. In a few months I will probably be released to go back to working at home.
Hair care I find to be a menace, and once I have a hairdresser that suits me, I stick with that person till something drastic pulls us apart. When I lived in Boston, I continued to schedule haircuts for when I flew back to California, ha ha. Well, I have moved from Portland to way out in the country, and only recently made it back into the city to get my hair cut. I like it long in summer, so I can pull it back into a ponytail. I like it short in winter.
I was asked out on a date a few weeks ago, and he and I hit it off, which is CRAZY because this guy is proud to call himself a conservative Christian Republican. I may be nuts. I am proud to call myself a liberal atheist who refuses to align with any political party. In my Thanksgiving phone call to my Pa, he laughed and said, “Well, I’ll bet you two have some rousing conversations!” So… it could make for some future rants in my blog that could offer some real entertainment. Stay tuned. 😉
Tara has been home the last two weekends and I am *so* happy to have my kid at home. I didn’t realize how much of a hole there was until it was filled and I felt the peace of it.
Tara got their first tattoo yesterday. It was an event. Tara has wanted a tattoo for years, but I would not give consent. The kid is now 18 and I relinquished my right to say “no.” If the plan had been to get a tattoo on the face or neck, or someone’s name, I would have protested, but instead Tara wanted a honeybee on their thigh. I can totally live with that. I think the tattoo is beautiful. While I was there I showed the artist my sadly distorted faery on my abdomen (who looked lovely until I got pregnant), and she had some ideas for how to make her pretty again. I may soon go under the needle myself.
It’s the season for giving thanks, and I am so grateful. For having a perfect child and an open mind, for having a father I can call, and a stepfather who calls me. For the reminder that I am a woman that a man could love. I am grateful that it’s so cold I think about the weather, and grateful that I have chickens to worry about. I am grateful for a troupe of gorgeous dancers and their parents and siblings who hug me every time I show up. I feel lucky to have a job many miles away, and I know I am lucky to have a home that fills up when my Tara and my Racecar kitty are here with me. I am so grateful that I turned out to be a person who never ceases to be fascinated with investigating the world around me.
I rose with as much leisure as possible, and waited for the sun to dry everything out before I packed. It was another glorious day in The Enchantments, and I was so reluctant to leave. Finally I began the 4000 foot drop back down to civilization.
Every bit of the trail was as beautiful as it was on the way up. I took lots of breaks because my bad knee was complaining. I would sit on one of the many available granite boulders, and gaze in admiration at the world around me. I passed one point in the trail where rustling leaves caught my attention. I first took a photo, then realized what was so beautiful about the spot was the sound, and not the image. So then I took a video. A couple of hikers came up while I was filming. I held up a finger for them to stay back till I finished. They got very excited and looked intently up the hill to discover what wildlife I had discovered. Then I stopped the video and disappointed them when I explained, “No wildlife, just rustling Aspen leaves.”
Lots of people passed me on the way up, which was a mystery until I recalled that it was Friday, and guessed that Seattle people were likely getting an early start on weekend hiking. They asked me lots of questions about trail conditions, campsites, and goats. I tried to encourage them by telling them about the trail ahead in the best possible way. “You’re at least half way to the lake!”
At the bottom of the hill the parking lot was jammed, compared to the empty lot I had seen Tuesday morning. Yet another affirmation for hiking popular trails during the week. I dumped my dirty smelly pack into the back of the Jeep and grabbed some clean clothes to bring up front with me – for changing in the first bathroom I could find. I plugged in my phone, and it started beeping it’s little heart out as battery life and cell signal brought in all the texts and phone messages I had missed.
One key phone message was from human resources. Yes! I got a promotion. A new job, more accurately. Since it’s government, there is no such thing as promotion in that someone says “Hey Crystal, you’re doing well and we’ve decided to pay you more,” because that could be unfair. So, when a different position became available, I submitted my resume and supporting documents, went through an interview, and was selected for the position.
Pros: higher salary, completely new job within VA that I get to learn and thus will stay interested in work, good career move, good retirement move since my retirement pay will be based on my highest salary.
Cons: I have to change my schedule from compressed to five days a week, and commute to the office every day while I’m in training. Drive to work. Every day. Cuz…remember I live on Jupiter now. I’m out beyond public transportation, and I do not drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and I’ll have to pay for parking smack downtown. Bluh. ….but it’s an investment in my future, right?
I get to bury myself ever more deeply into veterans disability claims and with this new position I will be able to help them more than ever before. That makes me really happy.
I was so eager to get home that I decided to make the 4 1/2 hour drive rather than find a hotel. I texted Tech Support, who was house-sitting, and let him know I was on my way. He texted back that the chickens had been loose during the week, but all was well at the moment (Someone must have told them they could fly. I was trying to keep that a secret.) He left the heat and lights on so when I arrived in the middle of the night, the place was so welcoming. 🙂
He also left me with this memento, taken from my place while I was gone:
My piece of land is growing on me as she changes her clothes for the season. I have decided there simply aren’t enough colours out there for a proper Autumn view, and I will plant trees with this in mind, so I can enjoy them in future years. There are a few maples turning colours though, and I have been able to capture a few photos of them. It has begun raining again, and the creek level is rising. The pond is still too low and I’ve talked to a neighbor who has a pump and generator, who may be able to lend it to me to restore my little puddle to something more pond like. I’ve harvested apples from my two apple trees and made a pie. The deer eat what I haven’t had a chance to pick up off the ground. I feel more assured when I can walk around and take stock and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. I suppose I’m becoming more of a country girl with each day.